By Daniel Hunter

For the last three years traffic has declined during the first quarter, setting the tone for traffic and economic performance in the year ahead.

According to results from INRIX, a leading international provider of traffic information and driver services, 2012 was no exception. Insights from INRIX’s Annual Traffic Scorecard reveal traffic fell 18 percent across Europe and 19 percent in the UK as EU countries faced challenging economic conditions.

Traffic patterns in early 2013 continued on a downward trend, with the first quarter of 2013 showing a further 23 percent decline in European congestion. Drivers across Europe spent approximately 27 fewer hours in traffic compared to the same time last year suggesting that the economy in Europe could be facing another tough year.

In 2012, British drivers spent 29 hours stuck in traffic gridlock, down 19% from 2011, with Brits spending approximately seven fewer hours in congestion. Overall, motorists in the UK spent less time in traffic than fellow drivers in Germany, France and the Netherlands and 30 fewer hours than travellers in Europe’s most congested country, Belgium.

Traffic levels continued to decline steadily in the first quarter of 2013, with initial results indicating congestion in the UK is down 11% year over year and drivers are spending around an hour less in gridlock than in the first quarter of 2012.

“There has always been strong correlation between the state of the economy and the level of traffic congestion on our roads. It tells us if people are employed and driving to work, going out to eat or doing some shopping, as well as whether or not businesses are shipping products,” said Bryan Mistele, president and CEO, INRIX. “Considering unemployment hit record highs in Europe in 2012 and European household wealth dropped 13.6% to $10.9 trillion, it’s hardly surprising that traffic levels have dropped significantly.”

London has moved up the European traffic congestion ranks to become the third most congested city in Europe in 2012. Manchester also climbed the European ranks moving from 20th to 18th place. Even with the jump in European rankings, the 18 UK cities analysed all showed declines in traffic congestion throughout the year, indicative of the impact of rising unemployment and fuel prices combined with declines in consumer spending.

Drivers in London spent a full three days of 2012 sitting in traffic, that’s over a day more than in the UK’s second most congested city Manchester, where drivers spent 45 hours in congestion. However, even in London traffic levels continue to drop, with congestion down 9% versus 2011. In Belfast, traffic dropped 20 percent and the city moved down the UK rankings from 4th to 6th place.